E3 2012: Hands-on Impressions
Stephen Meyerink Stephen Meyerink






US Q4 2012
Europe Q4 2012

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The environments pack in quite a bit of detail...
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...and can vary quite drastically from one another.
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Go There Do That! Uh, sure!
"While there's still quite a bit of work to go, this could be one to watch out for if you're interested in unusual cyberpunk setings."

Editor Neal Chandran and I recently had the chance to sit down with gamigo's Anthony Guzzardo and go over a few of the finer points of their upcoming MMORPG Otherland. Based on the series of novels by Tad Williams, Otherland offers up a virtual world with a vast number of varied environments and action-oriented combat (though we didn't get to see any of the latter).

Our demo of the game began in Lambda Mall, a hub world of sorts that showcases the game's rather striking art design. While the performance of the early build we saw was a bit choppy, the game's fantastical cyberpunk aesthetic was on display on full force. As Anthony took us through Lambda Mall, we saw a number of incredibly Blade Runner-esque locations, including several that might be familiar to fans of Tad Williams' book series.

When starting out, all players enter the world as a Simuloid; a sort of nondescript player avatar that can then be changed (at any time) into more distinct forms, ranging from the relatively normal to the completely whacked-out. Because the entire game takes place within the virtual Otherland, players are free to modify their appearance as often as they like without having to visit a special location. The game currently supports four different classes, though we were told that these are still in flux and subject to change. Much akin to the Phantasy Star Portable titles, classes can be changed at the Touch of Class shop in Lambda Mall, so you won't be locked into a specific role for the entirety of the game.

The variety in the environments was quite impressive. While our demo began in the surreal and high-tech Lambda Mall, we were later shown another world, H2, a forested realm full of lakes and trees. The overarching virtual theme was still prevalent here, with streams of code visible in the sky and water. Most striking about the design is that because these worlds are kingless and in a constant state of conflict (the sides being the Red and White Armies), giant chess pieces have appeared in the skies over the land to represent key points of battle. The effect is striking, and Anthony has assured us that each chess piece will house a large and unique dungeon for players to battle through. Players also have access to a customizable personal room within Lambda Mall called Youspace, though we didn't get to see this feature in action.

After leaving H2, we were taken to Five Island, which showcased a drastically different art style based on Chinese aesthetics and architecture. It was here that we learned that the overarching plot of the game will center around traveling to each island/world and visiting a "master," who will feed you bits of the plot and explain more about how the world came to be as it is. While the plot itself seems fascinating, Anthony explained that much of it will be delivered via quest text and dialogues, much like World of Warcraft.

The game also has its own form of fast travel, made up of what is quite literally a series of digital tubes that connect one island world to the next. We saw this in action as Anthony leapt his character into one of the Five Island tubes and rapidly flew across the ocean and landscape to Wood Island, another Chinese-inspired location where all the buildings and other constructions were made of, as expected, wood. The fast travel seems very stylish, although it does seem as though it could become a bit tedious after watching it many times.

The last area we had a chance to peek at was Clan Land, where the game's clans come together. Clan Land is a virtual zone with with various spheres floating around throughout the sky. Each sphere is shielded and represents a unique player clan. Within their space, clans are free to use a resource called Soma to customize the environment, clone monsters, and construct all manner of helpful buildings to aid members of the group. This was particularly intriguing, as we were shown two drastically different clan domes.

The first was a fairly standard wooded area with wildlife and lakes. The second, however, looked like something ripped straight out of Tron Legacy, with various visual representations of soundscapes, wave patterns, and other psychadelic and high-tech accoutrements. While we didn't get to see any other types of clan environments, this should certainly help groups create a space that is very distinctly their own. Another interesting wrinkle is that the game's PvP incorporates the capability for one clan to invade another's sphere if they are able to find the "IP address." Invasions allow players to wreak havoc, slaughtering the creatures and players within the dome, razing buildings, and stealing the precious Soma resources. If gamigo can deliver on these PvP promises and prevent player abuse, they should have a robust and exciting system on their hands.

Anthony threw us a few other details about the game during our demo. NPCs in the game have their own schedule: while you might see the fisherman plying his trade during the day, return visits in the evening will see him taking his haul to market, visiting the pub, or chatting with other townspeople. This extends to the NPCs from all of the various worlds in the game, so it should help infuse a sense of life that is often missing from MMORPGs. There will also be several minigames available in Lambda Mall that will have their own leaderboards and in-game rewards for participating.

Neal and I came away from our time with Otherland rather impressed, although the game is still very rough, and lots of content remains to be finalized. Optimizations are also definitely in order, as the performance of our demo wasn't terribly flattering. While there's still quite a bit of work to go, this could be one to watch out for if you're interested in unusual cyberpunk setings. The game will be free-to-play and include a standard microtransaction model, so there should be no problems checking the game out when it finally launches late this year!

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